The beginning of the year is often full of excitement for teachers. Who isn't to like the fact that the classroom is tidy and you have a full stash of whiteboard pens?
Hands up if you have ever done one of those 'All About Me' activities or back to School activities with your class. You know the ones I mean,
"What did you do in your holiday?"
"What is your favourite colour?"
"How many brothers and sisters do you have?" (Personally not a fan of this one, see why here)
"What do you like to eat?"
I have, I even made some resources like that, but I have changed them to be more trauma informed.
Recently though I've been learning lots about trauma informed teaching and classrooms. Trauma Informed Teaching has as its focus a classroom where the hauora of the child is at the centre and allows children a sense of control and empowerment.
Some of those questions like the ones above are fine but some need to be removed to make our classes trauma informed.
A 2011 US study showed that children from foster and adopted backgrounds experienced a huge increase in adrenaline and a decrease in the calming neurochemical GABA during back to school time. Back to School season can be stressful, especially if you have experienced a lot of change in your life!
It isn't only children from foster and adopted backgrounds who find back to school time difficult, children who have experienced divorce, have a family member in prison, have experienced family violence, death, neglect or poverty may also find reacclimatising to school challenging.
I spoke to Colleen from Trauma Informed Montessori about those first few weeks of school and how we can make our classrooms a safe place for everyone.
Colleen Wilkinson is an American Montessori Society -credentialed teacher (Early Childhood), consultant, and a Director at Montessori Country Day School in Houston, Texas. She lives with her wife, teenage daughter and many pets in the suburbs. In addition to her partnership with trauma informed care and social justice organizations, she provides professional development and support groups for parents and educators. She is passionate about trauma informed care, anti-bias work, adoption and foster care, and disability rights.
It’s Back to School time here in NZ and many educators are getting activities ready for the start of the year. How can we make these "getting to know you" types of activities Trauma Informed?
It's really important to remember that breaks in school can be complex for students. Not every child had a great break filled with vacations and family time. Breaks can be stressful for families who are struggling to find childcare, provide meals, or keep children busy. Any activities designed to get to know a child should be focused on their plan for the school year, things they enjoy, or other first person information. Asking things that dig into their personal lives can be too personal for the first few weeks of school.
Building relationships is important in creating safe classrooms for children. For children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma this is particularly important, what are some great ways to form positive relationships with learners early in the school year?
Some great ideas for creating relationship are getting to know how to pronounce each child's name correctly, looking each child in the eye frequently, engaging in a few moments of 1 on 1 time with each student over the first few days, and ensuring you have read any pertinent background information in a child's file, such as special educational plans or family situations. It's best to be authentic, caring and seek genuine connection with students.
If an educator knows a child has experienced a trauma how should we address it in the classroom? Should we talk about it or avoid it or is there not a general rule?
We should assume that most children in the classroom are going to experience trauma during the course of their education. So it is best practice to ensure we implement trauma informed practices with all children. While we might sometimes know whats happened in a child's life, we more often will not have information. We must both be empathetic and sensitive, but maintain the boundary that we are not qualified to be therapists for our students. When we know there is likely to be a trigger, we can change our classroom practices to be sensitive to the needs of that child. For example, we should adapt curriculum to reflect our student body and ensure there are books that reflect all family styles to ensure children can feel a sense of belonging. In addition, many schools are changing school events like Mother's Day to be more inclusive when they realize they have many children who live in family structures that do not include their mother, such as children living in foster care.